“Being Christian is my spirituality and being Maasai is my religion.”
As humans, we hardly reflect over the terms and conditions of anything. We simply read a few (if we must) and just tick the ‘agree’ boxes provided. This may be done for Facebook purposes or for school rules and regulations. We always seem to tick, and then deal with the consequences afterwards. Maybe we just want to get done with it and move on to other things. Shikenan, khalas, done!
Shanice Chebet Kuntai is almost incomplete without her beaded red shuka, her enshingili and her colorful Maasai outfits from Olmotonyi, a village in the southern part of Kenya. She carries her black, red, white and green Kenyan flag everywhere she goes, indicating that she is, in fact, a proud Maasai from Kenya. While being a Christian, she considers Maasai as her religion in many ways. Religion, she says, consists of the terms and conditions of life, with rules and regulations. She speaks little Maa (the Maasai language), and she makes failed attempts at tribal dancing, but can easily ‘go with the flow’ sometimes. In addition, she is from a polygamous family, for her father married two wives customarily.
Quarter tick, half tick and finally, a full, well-deserved tick.
A solidly blank box, though, is the Female Genital Mutilation. Shanice says, “I recalled my mother telling her sisters that the reason we were not circumcised was that she succeeded in convincing my father against it.” Uncircumcised girls in the Maasai region of Kenya are referred to as “unwhole”, as though losing a part of you makes you whole. The idea itself is indeed ironic as it refers back to expurgating somebody in the name of making them complete. Although this practice is slowly diminishing, it is still highly esteemed by proper Maasais.
God is a significant figure in both her religion and her spirituality. “I believe in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. For me, Enkai (The God of the Maasai) is God in the same way Allah is. A rose by another name… ”Instead of owning her Christianity as a religion, it is her spirituality. This means that Christianity is the relationship she has with God, the relationship bridged by Jesus Christ. This relationship with God for her is the marker for which she should tick or not tick the terms and conditions that her Maasai religion comes with. For example, Christianity is the reason she does not tick the box for “belief in ancestors and ancestral spirits” as her religions asks.
As humans, Shanice’s parents have ticked some boxes, and left others. As much as they have refused female circumcision, they are also a polygamous family. Polygamy is against Christianity, but is it advocated in the Maasai ethnic group. Is it possible to be a Maasai Christian? Can I tick all the boxes essential to be a full Maasai and simultaneously be a Christian? Can I get circumcised and still call myself a Christian? Do I have the right to refer to myself as a Christian coming from a polygamous family? Can I follow the rules to fit my infinite wants as a human or should I let my belief in God determine the rules that I must bend?
Indeed, a decision to either be a complete Maasai or a complete Christian can be made. However, it requires one to forgone one opportunity. I believe it comes down to identity and knowing who you truly are or want to be. Identities are shaped by both nurture and nature, but which identity of yours do you own, being religious or being spiritual?
Wrote this in June 2014 and published it on my old blog, theunseenafrica